The grieving orca whale has finally let go of the dead calf that she had been carrying for more than two weeks.
KING reported that the southern resident orca was spotted off San Juan Island on Saturday and had finally let go of her calf.
The adult — Tahlequah, or J35 as the whale has come to be known by researchers — and corpse were seen definitively Thursday afternoon, 17 days after the baby’s birth.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch,” said Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Region. “This kind of behavior is like a period of mourning and has been seen before. What’s extraordinary about this is the length of time.”
The mother had been preventing the body from sinking to the ocean floor. She has been carrying it and nudging it toward the surface of the Pacific off the coast of Canada and the northwestern US.
Scientists says grieving is common among mammals such as whales, dolphins, elephants and deer. Evidence shows the orca brain is large, complex and highly developed in areas dealing with emotions, said Lori Marino, president of the Whale Sanctuary Project.
“It’s not surprising they’re capable of deep feelings, and that’s what (Tahlequah) is showing,” Marino said. “What exactly she’s feeling we’ll never know. But the bonds between mothers and calves are extremely strong. Everything we know about them says this is grieving.”
Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb said it’s “unprecedented” for an orca to keep this going for so long. He said the mother has traveled more than 1,000 miles with the corpse, which has begun to decompose.
“It is a grief, a genuine mourning,” he said.
CNN contributed to this report.